As a former public school teacher and longtime advocate for children and quality schools, I’ll be the first to say we haven’t done right by our kids. But I’m joining with the Washington State PTA and other education leaders to oppose a charter schools measure on this year’s ballot. I actually voted for a charter schools bill in the Legislature; however, I cannot support this measure.

Voter approval of Initiative 1240 would force the state to spend millions on unproven ideas for a few, while neglecting to do anything that will really help all our kids. 

Ask any parent or teacher what’s wrong with education, and you always hear the same answers: that too many of our classrooms are overcrowded. Washington crams more kids into its classrooms than 46 of our 50 states. Our kids read outdated textbooks and prepare for the 21st century economy with outdated technology – or no technology at all. We’ve cut music and the arts, PE, higher-level math, science and foreign languages. We’ve eliminated teachers so that too many students don’t receive the attention they need.

Simply put, we don’t put enough dollars into our schools. That’s not an opinion; it’s legal fact. We’re now under court-order to fully fund education. 

Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court, in a groundbreaking legal action that brought together families, community groups, public school districts and education organizations, determined that the state had failed its constitutional duty to provide funding for basic education for our kids.

And the court case came out before the Legislature whacked an additional $2.6 billion from the K-12 budget. Granted, we in the Legislature have had an extraordinary challenge in fully funding basic education, even prior to the “Great Recession” and with Tim Eyman’s initiatives requiring a super majority for enacting increasing taxes or even eliminating tax loopholes. We’re one of a handful of states in which the state funds most of our public schools.

But, still, our goal must be to educate each and every student, not spend precious resources on just a tiny fraction of kids. Our local neighborhood schools educate all children. By comparison, admission to over-subscribed charter schools would be set by lottery.  

I-1240 doesn’t provide any additional funding for its 40 charter schools, which would all be funded by taxpayers. In fact, I-1240 takes away funding for existing schools.

The way state educational funding works, each student is allocated a certain amount of money and the money follows the student. That means if a charter school is set up in a community, there will be less money for the existing neighborhood public school. That could have real impacts in the classroom.

One analysis suggests that at least $100 million could be sucked away from public school funding to privately-operated charters. For some schools, the hit would be devastating. 

And there’s no guarantee charter schools would perform better. The most extensive study on charter schools done so far conducted by Stanford University showed that only 17 percent of charters perform better than traditional public schools, while twice that number perform at a lower level. And I’m also concerned about charters’ being able to operate without many of the regulations required for our public schools, including the state’s new rigorous teacher and principal evaluations and guidelines on how education money is spent. 

Let’s not gamble with our kids’ education and their well-being. We need to be funding quality schools for all.

Proponents of I-1240 talk about bringing accountability to education, but the initiative creates a new oversight bureaucracy in Olympia that would be staffed by unelected political appointees. This commission could grant charter schools in communities over the objection of the local school board. 

That means a charter could operate on Queen Anne or Magnolia over the objections of the Seattle School Board. And not only would the nearby public schools suffer from reduced budgets, the charter would have access to your levy dollars. You wouldn’t have a voice. 

We have some great neighborhood schools. Let’s not put the progress we’ve made at risk. 

I-1240 is the fourth try to bring charter schools into Washington. The others failed at the ballot box. And so should this one.

I hope you’ll join me, the state PTA, the NAACP, El Centro de la Raza, the League of Women Voters and many others and vote to reject I-1240.